She started chasing Love in the fourth grade.
After months of intriguing conversations, hilarious inside jokes, and intimate confessions of deepest, darkest fears, she had finally found The One. But The One, named X, had to go ahead and ruin it all by giving her a ring made out of thick grass to go along with his declaration that they would be married at recess. She knew X in a way that not many people in their class did so this behaviour was out of the norm for her mild mannered crush. As the world crumbled around her, X was standing there with his smile slowly turning to a frown. Sensing that she would not reply the way he thought she would, he shrugged, threw the ring to the floor, and ran off to join the other kids. As she crushed the grass ring below her shoe she questioned his behaviour. They were In Love and he was The One. So how could he disappoint her like this?
Over the years, she would find herself feeling sure that someone else was The One. She would cycle through this pattern of feeling intoxicated by an all-consuming crush and getting to know this crush, only for it to fall apart. On her 28th birthday, her friends, who were very familiar with and tired of this cycle, gifted her a single present: a book about love by bell hooks. At first, she laughed because self-help was never her thing (what a selfish pursuit!) and surely this was a gag gift leading to the real thing. But as soon as she realized her friends were serious and no other gifts were coming, she solemnly promised them she would read it in a few days.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into seasons, and before she knew it, she was sitting at home with the book staring back at her on the eve of her 29th birthday. This wasn’t what she had planned. Her 29th birthday celebration was supposed to be a kick-off to enjoying the last year of her 20s. Instead, an emergency alert lit up her phone at 5 AM that morning warning of an imminent thunderstorm and advised people and businesses to safely shelter at home. All day she had been trying to convince family and friends to come over (it’s just a short drive! We can shelter in place together!) but no one was coming. As the skies darkened and the rain began to pour, she decided to get comfortable and start reading all about love.
…while I wanted to know love, I was afraid to be truly intimate.
…to know love we have to tell the truth to ourselves and to others. Creating a false self to mask fears and insecurities has become so common that many of us forget who we are and what we feel underneath the pretense.
…as long as we are afraid to risk we cannot know love. Hence the truism: “Love is letting go of fear.”
While she read the last few phrases in the book, one question kept floating through her mind: had she been afraid of Love this entire time? The revolving door of crushes that seemed to burrow their way into her heart and mind certainty didn’t make it seem like she was afraid. On more than one occasion, she boldly claimed to love Love in all of its forms. Her favourite movies, books, stories, paintings, and songs were all about the different faces of Love. If she looked at it that way, she definitely didn’t fear Love. But she knew that for 28 years she had been pointing to these examples as a way to reassure herself that the Love she was chasing was not the problem. Love was perfect but the men she was infatuated with weren’t. Simply put, that was the problem. And as she checked the clock and noticed it was well past midnight, a large part of her wanted to continue telling herself that lie for another year so that she could live the way she always had. It’s unclear whether it was because of the increasingly loud winds outside her window or the sweet calls of the sleep deprivation sirens, but at that moment she made a decision. She would confront Love head-on once and for all.
The idea of confronting Love set off tingles all over her body. For so long she had been taken in by the idea and promise of Love and heartbroken when it let her down. X wasn’t the shy romantic who spent his evenings telling his mom and dad about how he loved her so much he cried himself to sleep. He was just a normal kid who did normal kid things and who sat two seats in front of her in class. There were many more X’s than she would like to admit but at least they were better than the Y’s. The Y’s were the ones who were perfect until they weren’t. Y would hook her in with his mystery and the allure of being someone that couldn’t be figured out. She would spend her days telling friends all about him and spend long nights browsing through tweets, posts, and pictures to better understand who he was. There was never enough to figure out Y so she would do her best to get to know him in real life. Over a series of conversations, she would piece together the puzzle and just when she was certain he was The One, he would do or say something to make her reconsider. The disinterest in his eyes that she loved so much would change to something that terrified her. He would lean in a bit closer, laugh at her jokes a bit louder, or call her “just to say hi”. Moments that would make her heart flutter as they unfolded onscreen or on the page caused her mind to initiate a flight or fight response of the highest degree. She ran away from it over and over again because this wasn’t the Love she wanted.
Her idea of love was shaped by early exposure to an upbeat duet from a certain 80s musical. The song was only 2 minutes long but that was all she needed to dedicate her life to the lifelong pursuit of Love. In the song the woman sings about how the man is everything she ever wanted and instructs him to move his legs, shimmy his shoulders, and come closer so she can hold him tightly by the waist. He sings in response and tells her that she too is perfect and among all the women living on earth, she is the best. Together they hold each others arms and agree to protect their love as they dance their way offscreen. Years later, she would play that clip from the musical and listen to it as she imagined her and her latest crush dancing and singing along. No matter how many times she would be disappointed by Love, it would remain in its purest form in this clip, beckoning her to come back. This clip was replaced by a song with lyrics so beautiful (“I wanna be your vacuum cleaner / Breathing in your dust”) that she would lose herself in it for a little while. Soon, she had her own required reading list of songs, movies, and books that taught her true Love was easy, fun, and lighthearted. It promised her that all she had to do was find The One and she too could laugh and smile everyday of her life. In the early hours of the morning, with flickering lights as her only companion and lightning making contact with the earth outside, she came to realize this was nothing more than an idea but it also wasn’t entirely a lie.
Love really could be easy, fun, and lighthearted, she knew that for a fact. She had experienced this form of Love over and over again. This version of Love was what she referred to in her mind as the “plug-and-play”, special edition, version. All it required was a curious romantic with an active imagination (her) and a co-star to join along on this journey (mostly X but sometimes Y). But the love she was reading about in the bell hooks book was a different kind of love. This love was all about intimacy, vulnerability, and honesty. This love required work but promised to be more fulfilling than the one she was so familiar with. This love scared her whereas her Love comforted and shielded her from the harshness of the world. But the promise of this love was far greater than what she could have ever imagined and to reap the benefits, she needed to step outside of the safety of her daydreams into reality.
As she closed the book sitting in her lap, she closed her eyes and thought of all The One’s there had been. Every single one of them was alluring in his own way but she preferred them when they were strangers. Once she got to know them, they would reveal themselves honestly and wait for her to do the same. She was a private person but gave off the impression of being open to everyone she met. Her closest friends called her out on this, several times, but she would laugh it off and share just a snippet of herself to satisfy them. She was only truly vulnerable and honest with God. Did she have to bare her innermost thoughts and desires to another human being to love and be loved? This realization dawned on her just as the phone rang. It was her friend on the other side, calling to make sure she was safe and wanting to stay on the phone with her until the storm had passed. For the next few hours, she would share her reflections with her friend, laugh as they reminisced about the past, and share their biggest fears. She may not be open to loving someone romantically just yet, but she decided that these moments were also love and she would do her best to dive in with her whole heart.
As the year slowly comes to an end, I took a look back at the photos I took this year and came across this pairing. A warm cup of tea and a good book to read are two things that bring me joy and I’m grateful to have experienced both on this day!